The NH Senate Chambers. J. Stephen Conn/Flickr Creative Commons.
(Editor's Note: This story originally ran in the January 2020 issue of Business NH Magazine. The status of some of these bills may have changed since its publication.)
non-election years, House and Senate committees study bills over the summer and wait until the fall to issue their recommendations. That means the 2020 legislative session in NH will kick off with some major votes on “undead” issues from 2019. Here’s a rundown of bills that could affect businesses.
The House and Senate held onto bills over the summer to raise NH’s minimum wage. The Senate committee is recommending an interim study on its bill, but the House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee is recommending a wage hike. As amended, HB 731 would gradually raise the wage from the federal limit of $7.25 to $13 per hour by 2024.
The Senate failed to override Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto of a 2019 minimum wage increase, so HB 731 also will probably stop short of becoming law.
Road Usage Fee
The House Public Works and Highways Committee is recommending the House kill a proposed gas tax increase. Instead, the committee is recommending a new road usage fee through HB 478. Drivers would pay an annual fee of $10 to $125 annually, depending on the miles per gallon of their vehicle. Cars with higher mpg would pay more.
Ideally, a road usage fee would ensure hybrid and electric cars pay their fair share for road maintenance, since they pay less in gas taxes. Opponents argue a road usage fee is essentially a punishment for driving an environmentally friendly vehicle.
Any new tax or fee faces an uphill battle with Gov. Sununu, but HB 478 has a few Republican sponsors, signaling bipartisan support.
The House Science, Technology and Energy Committee is recommending the House pass a form of carbon tax. Their amendment to HB 735 would require any vendor of carbon-based fuel to pay a fee that would be rebated to NH residents.
No other state currently has a fee on carbon, so NH would be blazing a new path making it unlikely Gov. Sununu would sign.
The House Municipal and County Government Committee is recommending two possible routes. HB 559 would ban single-use plastic bags and require retailers to sell bags made of recycled materials at 10 cents each and a maximum of 50 cents per purchase. Retailers would keep the fee.
HB 102 would allow towns to regulate distribution of single-use bags.
Either bill faces an uphill battle with Republicans, but HB 102 has a slightly better chance of succeeding because it gives towns local control.
Compensation for Unused Vacation Time
The House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee is recommending passage for HB 532, which would require employers to payout unused vacation time upon termination of employment for any reason and to have a policy on accrual or use of vacation time.
HB 532 has bipartisan support, but similar bills have failed in the past.
Family and Medical Leave Insurance
The House Finance Committee is recommending the House pass HB 712 to establish a statewide family and medical leave insurance program. HB 712 is similar in concept to SB 1, the family and medical leave bill Gov. Sununu vetoed last year. That means HB 712 also most likely faces a veto.
NH Sen. Jeb Bradley is sponsoring a family and medical leave plan backed by Gov. Sununu. At the time of this writing, details were not yet public.
Raising the Threshold to File Business Taxes
The Senate Ways and Means Committee is recommending the Senate pass SB 223 that would increase the threshold to file a business profits tax return from $50,000 to $75,000. The bill is sponsored by three Democrats and one Republican, so there is some bipartisan support. However, a similar bill failed to pass in 2017.
The Senate sent HB 481, 2019’s flagship marijuana legalization bill, back to committee. At the time of this writing, the Senate Judiciary Committee had yet to issue a report. The House kept HB 722 over the summer, but the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee is recommending interim study—a polite way of killing a bill in an election year.
Meanwhile several legislators have requested new 2020 bills to legalize marijuana. The debate will definitely continue.
Anna Brown is director of research and analysis with Citizens Count, a nonprofit providing objective information about issues and candidates. For more information, visit citizenscount.org.